RUSSIA: Presidential Bill Outlawing Religious 'Extremist Activity' Passes First Reading.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 7 June 2002

A draft law banning religious organisations found to have committed "extremist activity" passed its first reading in the Russian Duma (parliament) yesterday (6 June) by 271 votes to 141. The bill, which is being proposed by President Vladimir Putin via the Duma Committee for Legislation, relates to "extremist activity" conducted by religious organisations as well as political parties, social and other organisations.

Originally entitled "On the Struggle Against Extremist Activity" (See KNS 5 February 2002), the draft law is now called "On Counteracting Extremist Activity." Officially adopted by the Legislation Committee on 29 April, the text voted upon by deputies yesterday differs considerably from that earlier reported by Keston.

The draft law's list of definitions of "extremist activity (extremism)" now includes the following religion-related items: "Hindrance of the legal activity of religious organisations or of the carrying out of religious rites," "hooligan acts or acts of vandalism in relation to political, racial, national or religious intolerance" and "causing harm to the health or property of citizens due to their convictions, race, nationality or creed."

The new text contains slight changes in the procedure by which a religious or other organisation may be banned for conducting "extremist activity." Article 6 states that such an organisation must first receive written notice of the inadmissibility of its actions from a state organ, which should provide concrete grounds for the warning.

If, according to Article 7, the organisation concerned nevertheless commits "extremist acts" which result in either "damage to the personality, rights and freedoms of the person or citizen, the health of citizens, the environment, social order, public security, property, the legal or economic interests of physical or legal persons, or to society and the state" or which "create a real threat of such damage," then that organisation faces a liquidation or ban by court order.

Another significant change in the new draft is its greater impact upon bodies supporting - but not committing - "extremist activity." The earlier draft provided in the first instance for the confiscation of a particular issue of a publication or the blocking of an internet site found to contain "extremist material", with no implication for the publisher. Article 12 of the new text, by contrast, states that organs of the mass media circulating "extremist material" (defined as "published material containing appeals to carry out extremist activity") are liable to immediate liquidation. In addition, according to Article 11, any organisation assisting extremist organisations by financial or material means (provision of premises, facsimile or telephone equipment, for example) also faces liquidation.

While the earlier version of the bill stated that charges would be brought against individual members of an organisation only if they had been found to have committed concrete violations of the law, and that an entire organisation could be liquidated should its individual members engage in extremist activity only if this was with the knowledge of at least one of its ruling organs, the latest draft is less specific. Article 15 states merely that "membership of or adherence to an extremist organisation or employment in organs of the mass media prior to their liquidation or ban for conducting extremist activity do not constitute grounds for limitation of civil rights or prosecution with the exception of instances prescribed by this federal law."

While the Russian media reports today (7 June) that, as previously, the draft law was accompanied by a supplementary bill proposing amendments and additions to related legislative acts, these are cited as the Criminal Code and the laws on the police, education and military service. In its original form (see KNS 5 February 2002) the supplementary bill included proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, the law on social organisations and the 1997 law on religion.

On 7 June Lev Levinson, parliamentary aide to Duma deputy Sergei Kovalyov, confirmed to Keston that the latest supplementary bill does indeed not contain any proposed amendments to the 1997 law on religion, including the creation of a federal successor body to the Council of Religious Affairs. (See KNS 6 February 2002)

Speaking to Keston on 5 June, lawyer to the Jehovah's Witnesses Artur Leontyev said that he thought the bill would pass its three readings by the end of the parliamentary session on 1 July. (END)